On a Tuesday in late May, Antonio Franklin sits in a makeshift classroom in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, 10 years to the day after he stepped foot inside Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk to serve nine years for aggravated assault against a cop. Pencil in hand, he looks on as instructor Ismail Abdurrashid fills a whiteboard with algebra equations. A year ago, Franklin left prison. Now, at 31, he’s brushing up on high-school-level math with about a dozen other classmates, preparing to attend Bunker Hill Community College in the fall.
Many of Franklin’s classmates dropped out of high school, and many were incarcerated. Some, like Franklin, earned their GED while serving time; some are taking this math class to prepare for the corresponding HiSET, or High School Equivalency Test (a new test, similar to the GED). Some, also like Franklin, ended up in prison after being on the streets, engaging in gunplay and selling narcotics. All of them are now being paid to attend class and go to college.
Franklin and about 40 other students are members of Boston Uncornered, a three-year pilot program launched in May and run by the education nonprofit College Bound Dorchester. The participants earn a $400 weekly stipend by attending class every day, passing their HiSETs, and matriculating to college. Once in college, the stipend continues for as long as it takes them to graduate with an associate’s degree. The program seeks to address one key factor—lack of income—that might lure ex-offenders and former gang members back on the street. “As much as we want to do good in school, we need money,” says Franklin, whose stipend goes toward his rent, groceries, and probation fees. “I love this school stuff, but how can you live life without being financially stable as well?”
Whether the program can put a dent into the overall gang activity on Boston’s streets remains to be seen. According to CBD, the city’s estimated 2,600 gang members are responsible for half the city’s homicides and close to three-quarters of all shootings. In 2016, there were 135 total homicides in Boston, a slightly higher tally than the previous year, and local law enforcement say gang feuds were responsible for the uptick.